Imagine a place where you can hold a koala like a baby, walk right up to lounging kangaroos and curious emus, and feed wild lorikeets. Add in a dozen or so more quintessential Australian icons and you’ve got the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the best hands-on zoo experience we’ve ever had.
Once inside, we were on a mission to accomplish our main goal: cuddling a koala. Mine was adorably named Bagel, and he was surprisingly heavy for his compact size, probably around 15 pounds. His coat was hardy, feeling more like felt then velvet. His long dark claws, normally used for grabbing branches, pressed gently against my chest. I wish I could have held him forever. Kristen’s koala was named Byron, and she also immediately fell in love. I think we had found our new favorite place in Australia.
The sanctuary itself, dating back to 1929, is the oldest and largest of its kind, and lies in a quiet suburb just outside Brisbane. Popular among tourists, it also seems very pampering to the resident marsupials: the koalas need no cages, because they don’t want to leave. We were astonished to hear that koalas spend 18-19 hours of their day sleeping, and the rest of the time slowly chomping away at fresh eucalyptus leaves. And sometimes (for no more than 30 minutes a day), they pose for photos with eager animal-lovers just like us.
After holding the koalas and picking up dorky photo prints to prove it, we were a little giddy to say the least. We meandered through the rest of the park, spying exotic birds, bizarre reptiles, amphibians, lazy dingoes, a giant cassowary, and a wombat.
We were thoroughly entertained by all of the sights until we wandered into the dark building housing one of the most amazing animals we’ve ever seen: a platypus. We had the room to ourselves, and the small reptile/mammal - a monotreme, we’re told - unknowingly put on a show for us. With his beaver-like tail and duck-like bill, he buzzed around in his tank, hunting excitedly for a little prawn, which he eventually snagged. Unfortunately, none of our photos turned out, but we did capture his cuteness on video:
Leaving the sanctuary, we again realized that Australia, having been separated from the other continents for eons, has some of the most unique and amazing wildlife. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary just might be the best way to explore it close up.